Hoi-An is a beautiful city located on the east coast of central Vietnam. Consisting out of a beautiful historic city and an ever growing modern part, Hoi-An was rightfully chosen to be considered a UNESCO world heritage site. However, the city’s appeal comes not only from the historic inner city, but is also derived from the fact that it ’s a hub for divers, snorkels, and sightseeers to go and visit the nearby Cham islands.
The historic city of Hoi-An dates back to the 15th-16th century. It was originally a minor trading village in the 15th century with some Portuguese influences throughout the 16th century. It wasn’t until the end of the 16th century that Hoi-An really started flourishing under the Nguyen lords. The commercial interest of these lords was unprecedented in Vietnam in that period and under their rule Hoi-An became a major player in Vietnamese trade relations. Traders from Portugal, England, China, Japan, and more all flocked to Hoi-An to share in the profits. This turned the city into one of the most important trading conduits between Asia and Europe.
Hoi-An’s status as UNESCO world heritage site is also closely linked to the city’s demise as a major trade port. Nearing the end of the 19th century, alongside the demise of the Nguyen lords, Hoi-An ceased to function as a major harbour. An important reason for this was the fact that the river alongside which Hoi-An is situated silted up at it’s river mouth making it almost impossible for ships to reach the city. While this meant that trading with Hoi-An ceased, it also meant that the city was largely sheltered from outside influences. Because of this most of the city has remained almost untouched since it started functioning as a major port and many of the buildings dating back to this period still remain standing. This makes Hoi-an one of the only cities in Vietnam with an almost fully preserved “old town” with many of the old homes and warehouses still standing and accessible to the public.
While the land-based cultural heritage of Hoi-An is under strict protection, the same cannot be said regarding the underwater cultural heritage. Vietnam’s underwater cultural heritage is still an underrated aspect of Vietnamese society and is commonly subjected to looting, salvaging and natural degradation. The main reason for this is because the underwater cultural heritage does not draw nearly as many visitors to the country as the land based cultural heritage does, and therefore does not bring in enough money to warrant a protected status.
The Vietnam Maritime Archaeology project hopes to change this carelessness regarding the underwater cultural heritage by showing what sort of cultural wealth is hidden underwater. The city of Hoi-An is a perfect base of operations for this as it is easily accessible from all over the world and has a lot to thank to its underwater cultural heritage. Furthermore, Hoi-An has many museums showcasing the treasures found underwater. Finally, the city is also an important hub for our project as not does it have its own underwater cultural heritage, it is also relatively easy to access a plethora of other different sites from the Hoi-An harbour. With the Cham islands being one of our most important dive-sites, only 30 minutes by boat away from the harbour.
Hopefully this project will manage to garner attention for Vietnam’s (And specifically Hoi-An’s) underwater cultural heritage by showing the country what it has to offer which can then in turn be used to educate a new generation of archaeologists and cultural heritage specialists.
Greetings from Hoi-An,
Mike de Booij